Let’s talk about asylum seekers arriving in Ireland without documents

Anti-immigrant protestors often trot out wild allegations about migrants coming to Ireland with no passports as an abuse of our immigration system.

In the first quarter of 2023 there have been 780 such people which is down 50% on the peak figure in 2022.

Asylum seekers arriving in a country without passports is not unusual, however.

The 1951 Refugee Convention was enacted to protect refugees fleeing from persecution. Article 31 of the Refugee Convention says that a person must not be penalised for entry without documents for the purpose of seeking asylum.

To seek protection in Ireland you must first enter the State. Under the International Protection Act, 2015 the applicant can apply at the border of the State or in the State at the International Protection Office. However, Ireland requires visas from most refugee producing countries therefore it is difficult for such individuals to travel here at all.

To get around this requirement, and bearing in mind many are fleeing from countries where they are obliged to flee quickly without documents, fraudulent documents and the use of smugglers and irregular immigration routes will be used to get to Ireland.

Once they are here, they can apply for asylum and may be forced to return the false documents to the smugglers or people traffickers. Some destroy their documents for strategic reasons or out of fear.

This system of seeking asylum is not unique to Ireland and many other countries in Europe experience the same phenomenon.

The international protection procedure requires the application for asylum to be examined closely to see if the applicant is eligible for subsidiary protection status or refugee status. This cannot be done at the airport and will require a review of the applicant’s story, background, identity documents, photos, evidence of the circumstances in the country which they have left, police records, news articles, and other evidence to support their application.

Therefore, the idea that persons who present at the airport without documents are unvetted is mistaken. It is arguable that they are more closely vetted than most of us as part of the asylum application system.

In Ireland the definition of who is deserving of asylum and the system to determine the application is strict.

In 2022 Ireland received 3 applications per 1,000 people in the population. The EU average is 2.2 per 1,000 people in the population whilst Austria, for example, saw 12 applications per 1,000 people in the population.

Scaremongering about persons coming to Ireland without documents or destroying documents is easy.

Understanding the international protection system is more difficult but is worthwhile to see how it is operated in other EU countries and how it can be improved.